[Viewpoint] Can’t Korea and Japan get along?

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[Viewpoint] Can’t Korea and Japan get along?

It must be untangled somehow. Korea and Japan cannot live without one another. Korea, China and Japan have a common future to think about before doing anything rash. Korea and Japan have kept up occasionally strained ties as well as civility for the sake of reciprocal interests over the years. Love or hate, we are bound together as neighbors.

The test this time around is a tricky one. A breakthrough in the standoff may inevitably have to wait until a new government comes in next February. Both current governments are pushing bilateral relations to the edge.

The times call for the civilian sector to start playing a greater role. People of both countries should demonstrate more maturity and common sense than their governments. Government behavior often exposes the limits of international relations.

The current diplomatic spat has not triggered mass protests in either Korea or Japan. Territorial and historical claims should be constantly raised and addressed through diplomatic and academic channels, while economic and cultural exchanges need to be deepened in order to push bilateral relations forward.

A hundred and two years ago, Korea lost its sovereignty to Japan. This week, Moody’s Investors Service raised Korea’s sovereign debt rating to an investment grade on par with Japan and China. It’s the first time in history that the three countries stand on equal footing in terms of their credit ratings. Even if national debt evaluations are a late 20th century phenomenon, the meaning of this milestone should go back to ancient days. A sense of equal standing feeds competition and can even lead to conflict, but at the same time it prompts higher-level cooperative relationships between and among countries.

The three East Asian countries now share a stellar sovereign credit rating - the fourth highest on Moody’s scale. Apart from the credit rating, the three are manufacturing powerhouses unmatched in economic vitality.

That is why the trio is envied and feared by the world and needs to form a united force. Neighbors with such rich potential are required to cooperate in order to contribute to regional and global prosperity.

There are a lot of ways in which Korea and Japan can help one another. “Hero,” a song-and-dance dramatization of national independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun that won the JoongAng Ilbo-sponsored Musical Awards in 2010, was staged at Lincoln Center in New York in August 2011. United Nations envoys were invited to the performance by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“As Ahn is our hero, Ito Hirobumi [the first resident-general to colonize Korea, whom Ahn assassinated] remains so to the Japanese,” said the musical’s creator, Yun Ho-jin. “Such an understanding in the play drew empathy from ambassadors from various countries and underscored the bigger message of peace in Asia, which had been envisioned by Ahn in his manifesto written in prison.” Negotiations are under way with a Japanese agency to stage “Hero” in Japan in 2015 as a part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic normalization.

Kim Young-taek, who publishes illustrations in the JoongAng Ilbo, has been drawing cultural assets at home and abroad. His pen drawings include 14 Japanese properties, as well.

Newly appointed Japanese ambassador to Korea, Masatoshi Muto, is said to be a fan of Kim’s drawings and proposed to hold an exhibition of them at the Mitsukoshi Department Store on the Ginza in Tokyo.

The JoongAng Ilbo has been holding rotating meetings of 30 experts from Korea, China and Japan annually with Japan’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun and Xinhua News Agency of China since 2006.

It provides an intellectual network of specialists and experts in various fields from the three countries. Their proposals of annual tripartite summit meetings and expansions of currency agreements to jointly cope with external shocks are some of the ideas that became government policies.

Exchanges and interactions small and big must be deepened and expanded. As in a community, the better-informed civilians should help to provide balance in bilateral relations so that they are not made worse by extreme ideological groups. Cultural exchanges led by ordinary civilians can smooth the waters more effectively than any diplomatic negotiation or free trade pact.

This may not be the best time, but in the future, authorities should consider allowing terrestrial TV networks to air Japanese programs. Regardless of the spat over the Dokdo islets and wartime sex slaves, we should continue with cultural exchanges to deepen understanding among the people in the two countries.

* The author is the editor in chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Su-gil

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